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Bombs are exploding in the streets of London, but life seems to have planted more subtle booby-traps for Miles Flint. Miles is a spy. His job is to watch and to listen, then to report back to his superiors, nothing more. The job, affording glimpses into the most private lives of his victims, appeals to Miles. He doesn't lust after promotion, and he doesn't want action. He wants, just for once, not to botch a case. Having lost one suspect - with horrific consequences - Miles becomes too involved with another, a ...

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Bombs are exploding in the streets of London, but life seems to have planted more subtle booby-traps for Miles Flint. Miles is a spy. His job is to watch and to listen, then to report back to his superiors, nothing more. The job, affording glimpses into the most private lives of his victims, appeals to Miles. He doesn't lust after promotion, and he doesn't want action. He wants, just for once, not to botch a case. Having lost one suspect - with horrific consequences - Miles becomes too involved with another, a young Irishwoman. His marriage seems ready to crumble to dust. So does his home.

But Miles is given one last chance for redemption - a trip to Belfast, which quickly becomes a flight of terror, murder and shocking discoveries. But can the voyeur survive in a world of violent action?

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Editorial Reviews

Janet Maslin
While Watchman is not up to the Rebus standard for curmudgeonly appeal, it is of at least academic interest to anyone wondering what it takes to make a winner. Mr. Rankin had some of the pieces in place here. And he knew how to move them around with vigor. He constructed a brisk if overpopulated espionage plot jolted by steady revelations and changes of pace. He also wrote in a variation of the sharp, canny narrative voice that offers entree to the serpentine workings of Rebus's mind.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Fans of Rankin's Inspector Rebus series (The Naming of the Dead, etc.) will welcome the U.S. publication of his second novel, a stand-alone spy thriller from 1988 that contains Rebus-like elements. Miles Flint has been a successful middle manager in the shadowy ranks of British intelligence until recent mistakes, including a botched surveillance of an Arab assassin, put his career and reputation in jeopardy. Suspecting that the killer evaded him because of a tip from one of his own, Miles launches his own mole hunt, casting himself in a role that's uncomfortably active for him-especially as his search leads back to his wife, Sheila. And Miles's doings seemingly strike a nerve within the organization, getting him dispatched on a perilous IRA bombing-related mission. Rankin creates plausible and fascinating characters in a manner that seems effortless (as in Miles's tic of comparing people to different kinds of beetles). While the elements of the denouement will strike some as gimmicky, it's clear that if Rankin had devoted his gifts to spy fiction rather than mysteries, he would still have been a hit. (Dec.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal
Londoner Miles Flint is in a slump--things are not good at home or at the office. He is a mid-career surveillance officer for MI5--a ``watchman''--and he has just bungled what should have been a simple assignment. Inquisitive by nature, Miles suspects something has gone awry in his unit and so begins his own internal investigation. As Miles gets closer to a nerve center, he starts to worry the people in command. When Miles is sent to Northern Ireland to oversee the arrest of two IRA terrorists, he is totally unprepared for the crazy events that transpire. A passive observer by trade, Miles is plunged into danger and has to tap resources he did not even know he possessed. Parallel to this story is Miles's attempt to rekindle romance with his wife, who has drifted away from him. This compact, well-written, and fast-paced espionage novel is sure to please readers of the genre.-- Maria A. Perez-Stable, West ern Michigan Univ. Libs., Kalamazoo
Kirkus Reviews
An early, Rebus-less spy thriller from Rankin (The Naming of the Dead, 2007, etc.), published for the first time in the United States. Miles Flint, a weary, aging dogsbody in MI5's surveillance-and-report unit (the "Watcher" service), decides to tag along and help tail "Latchkey," an Arab businessman who might have skulduggery in mind. Despite the surveillance, Latchkey bolts, leading to an Israeli decapitation and major cover-ups by several secret services, most of which attract attention from Flint, who suspects something fishy is going on. Soon Flint is on the run from those who want to silence him, a crowd that includes his superior Partridge; his wife's new romantic interest, his colleague Billy Monmouth; and Andrew Gray, who, with CIA backing, has several informants on his payroll. Flint is sent packing to Belfast, supposedly to oversee the apprehension of some IRA terrorists, but the fix is in, and the beleaguered watcher must flee with Will Collins, one of the pair whose arrest he was supposed to be witnessing. The two piece together a saga of frayed allegiances, self-aggrandizement and chicanery that began with an assassination and spanned the career of an MP on a security-funding commission before winding up as a four-part investigative series in a London daily. Not as stylishly compelling as Rankin's later efforts, but a gritty appraisal of the bomb-wielding miasma of the 1980s and a highly readable explanation of the demons that drive zealots to switch sides.
The Barnes & Noble Review
Ian Rankin's early novel Watchman followed the first of his books starring Inspector John Rebus, the whiskey-tinctured, smoke-cured misanthrope of Auld Reekie. Sunny only by comparison with Rebus, Miles Flint, another Scot, is an MI5 agent who lives in the London of the mid-1980s, the heyday of IRA bombings. Shortly after we meet him, dyspeptic with midday drink and loath to go home to his jittery marriage, he botches a job and a man is assassinated. The next thing you know, Flint's investigation into what went amiss begins to turn up inconvenient details, and he is shunted off to Northern Ireland on a caper that gets fishier and fishier. Treachery is everywhere. We are in a fallen world -- though one with electric suspense and a good deal of action. Rankin's righteous pleasure in scenes of urban sordidness, institutional self-preservation, and the suave hypocrisy of life's winners is gratifyingly evident in this youthful, fleet-footed offering. --Katherine A. Powers
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385418096
  • Publisher: The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/1/1991
  • Edition description: 1st ed. in the U.S.A
  • Pages: 192

Meet the Author

Ian Rankin

Ian Rankin is a #1 international bestselling author. Winner of an Edgar Award and the recipient of a Gold Dagger for fiction and the Chandler-Fulbright Award, he lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, with his wife and their two sons.


"I grew up in a small coal-mining town in central Scotland. I was always interested in stories. Even though the town had no book stores (and my parents were not great readers), I made full use of the local library. It was mind-boggling to me that (at the age of 11 or 12) I could not gain access to a movie theatre to see such classics as The Godfather, A Clockwork Orange, or Straw Dogs, yet no one stopped me from borrowing these titles from my library. Books seemed to have about them a whiff of the illicit and the dangerous. That was all the encouragement I needed. I went to university in 1978, joined a punk band (on vocals), and continued to write a lot of song lyrics and poems. However, I found that my poems were actually 'telling stories', and so started to write short stories.

A few of these found publication and even won some awards. Then one story raged out of control and became my first novel. It was never published, but that didn't matter: I was now a novelist. I stumbled on Detective Inspector John Rebus by accident while attempting to write an update of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: Rebus would be my Jekyll, his Hyde a character from his past. Along the way, I discovered that a cop is a good 'tool,' a way of looking at contemporary society, its rights and wrongs. Rebus, I decided, would stick around. Meantime, I finished unviersity, moved to London for four years (where I worked first as a college secretary, later as a hi-fi/audio journalist), then rural France for six years. Both my sons were born in France. By the time the oldest had reached school age, we'd decided to move back to Scotland. I now live and work in Edinburgh, and the Rebus novels have gone from strength to strength in terms of sales and recognition."

Author biography courtesy of Little, Brown & Company

Good To Know

Before making it as an author Rankin held a wide variety of gigs, including working in a chicken factory, as a swineherd, a grape-picker, and a tax collector. He even performed as the frontman of the short-lived punk band, The Dancing Pigs.

He has broken Irvine Welsh and Iain Banks's records, with six titles in the Scottish top 10 bestseller list simultaneously.

His favorite/inspirational books include pretty much anything by James Ellroy, Ruth Rendell, and Raymond Chandler—plus classics of Scottish Literature such as Robert Louis Strevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, James Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner, and Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Other "desert island" titles include Martin Amis's Money, Anthony Burgess's Earthly Powers, Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time and Ian McEwan's First Love, Last Rites.

His favorite web site is — the official web site of Rebus's favourite Edinburgh tavern!

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    1. Also Known As:
      Jack Harvey
    2. Hometown:
      Edinburgh, London and France
    1. Date of Birth:
      April 28, 1960
    2. Place of Birth:
      Cardenden, Scotland
    1. Education:
      Edinburgh University
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt


A Novel
By Ian Rankin

Little, Brown and Company

Copyright © 1988 John Rebus Limited
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-316-00913-3

Chapter One

MILES FLINT WORE GLASSES: they were his only distinguishing feature. Billy Monmouth could not help smiling as he watched Miles leave the club and head off toward his car, which would be parked some discreet distance away. Miles and Billy had joined the firm around the same time, and it had seemed inevitable that, over the years, they would become friends, though friends, in the strictest sense of the word, were never made in their world.

Miles was feeling a little heavy from the drinks. Billy had insisted on buying-"the prerogative of the bachelor's paycheck, old boy"-and Miles had not refused. He fumbled now at the buttons of his coat, feeling a slight and unseasonal chill in the London air, and thought of the evening ahead. He had one more visit to pay, a few telephone calls to make, but apart from that, Sheila and he would have their first full evening together for a whole week.

He did not relish the prospect.

As suspected, his car had collected a parking ticket. He ripped it from the windscreen, walked around the car once as though he were a potential and only half-informed buyer, and bent down as if checking for a bald tire or broken muffler. Then, satisfied, he unlocked the passenger door. The Jaguar's interior, pale hide complementing the cream exterior, looked fine. He slid across into the driver's seat and slipped the key into the ignition, turning it quickly. The engine coughed once, then roared into life. He sat back, letting it idle, staring into space.

That was that, then. He was not about to be blown up today. He knew that the younger men in the firm, and even the likes of Billy Monmouth, smiled at him behind his back, whispering words like "paranoia" and "nerves," going about their own business casually and without fear, as though there were invisible barriers between them and some preordained death. But then Miles was a cautious man, and he knew that in this game there was no such thing as being too careful.

He sat for a few more minutes, reflecting upon the years spent inspecting his car, checking rooms and telephones and even the undersides of restaurant tables. People thought him clumsy because he would always drop a knife or a fork before the meal began, bowing his head beneath the tablecloth to pick it up. All he was doing was obeying another of the unwritten rules: checking for bugs.

The car was sounding good, though it was a luxury much detested by Sheila. She drove about in a battered Volkswagen Beetle, which had once been orange but was now a motley patchwork of colors. Sheila did not think it worthwhile paying a garage to do repairs, when all one needed was a handbook and some tools. Miles forgave her everything, for he too had a quiet liking for her car, not so much for its performance as for its name.

Miles Flint's hobby was beetles, not the cars but the insects. He loved to read about their multifarious lifestyles, their ingenuity, their incalculable species, and he charted their habitats on a wall map in his study, a study filled with books and magazine articles, and a few glass cases containing specimens that he had caught himself in earlier days. He no longer killed beetles, and had no desire to exhibit anyone else's killings. He was content now to read about beetles and to look at detailed photographs and diagrams, for he had learned the value of life.

He had one son, Jack, who built up tidy overdrafts during each term at the university, then came home pleading poverty. Miles had flipped through the stubs in one of Jack's famished checkbooks: payments to record stores, bookshops, restaurants, a wine bar. He had returned the checkbook to Jack's secondhand tweed jacket, replacing it carefully between a diary and a letter from a besotted (and jilted) girlfriend. Later, he had asked Jack about his spending and had received honest answers.

Miles knew that his kind did not deal in honesty. Perhaps that was the problem. He examined the large-paned windows along the quiet street, the car's interior warming nicely. Through one ground-floor window he could watch the silent drama of a man and a woman, both on the point of leaving the building, while by running the car forward a yard or two, he might glance into another lit interior. The choice was his. For once, and with a feeling of abrupt free will, he decided to drive away completely. He had, after all, to visit the watchmen.

Somewhere behind him, in the early-evening twilight, came the sound of an explosion.

Miles stopped outside the Cordelia, a popular nouveau riche hotel off Hyde Park. The receptionist was listening to her pocket radio.

"Has there been a news flash?" he asked.

"Yes, isn't it awful? Another bomb."

Miles nodded and headed for the lifts. The lift was mirrored, and riding it alone to the fifth floor, he tried not to catch a glimpse of himself. Another bomb. There had been one last week, in a car parked in Knightsbridge, and another had been defused just in time. London had taken on a siege mentality, and the security services were running around like so many ants in a glass case. Miles could feel a headache coming on. He knew that by the time he reached home, he would be ready for a confrontation. It was not a good sign, and that was part of the reason for this short break in his journey. He also wanted to make a few phone calls on the firm's bill. Every little bit helped.

He knocked twice on the door of room 514, and it was opened by Jeff Phillips, looking tired, his tie hanging undone around his neck.

"Hello, Miles," he said, surprised. "What's up?"

Inside the room, Tony Sinclair was busy listening to something on a headset. The headset was attached to a tape recorder and a small receiver. He nodded in greeting at Miles, seeming interested in the conversation on which he was eavesdropping.

"Nothing," said Miles. "I just wanted to check, that's all. There's been another bomb."


"I don't know. I heard it go off as I was driving here. Somewhere near Piccadilly."

Jeff Phillips shook his head. He poured some coffee from a thermos, gesturing with the cup toward his superior, but Miles waved away the offer.

He flicked through his tiny notebook, which was filled with telephone numbers and initials, nothing more. Yes, he did have a couple of calls to make, but they were not that important. He realized now that his reason for coming here was simply to defer his going home. There did not seem to be any good nights at home now, and mostly, he supposed, that was his fault. He would be irritable, persnickety, finding fault with small, unimportant things, and would store up his irritation deep within himself like the larva of a dung beetle, warm and quickening within its womb of dung. Jack had given him a year's adoption of a dung beetle at London Zoo as a birthday present, and Miles had never received a more handsome gift in his life. He had visited the glass case, deep in the subdued light and warmth of the insect house, and had watched the beetle for a long time, marveling at the simplicity of its life.

What his colleagues did not know was that Miles Flint had found counterparts for them all in the beetle world.

He felt the pulse of the headache within him. A few whiskeys often did that. So why did he drink them? Well, he was a Scot after all. He was supposed to drink whiskey.

"Do you have any aspirin, Jeff?"

"Afraid not. Been on the bottle, have we?"

"I've had a couple, yes."

"Thought I could smell it." Phillips sipped his tepid coffee.

Miles was thinking of James Bond, who was a Scot but drank martinis. Not very realistic, that. The resemblance between Miles and James Bond, as Miles was only too aware, stopped at their country of origin. Bond was a comic book hero, a superman, while he, Miles Flint, was flesh and blood and nerves.

And headache.

"It's been quiet here," said Phillips. "A few phone calls to his embassy, made in Arabic, just asking about the situation back home and if they had any of this week's newspapers, and a call to Harrods, made in English, to ask what time they close. He went out for an hour and a half. Bought the Telegraph, would you believe, and a dirty magazine. Tony knows the name of it. I don't go in for them myself. He also purchased two packets of Dunhill's and one bottle of three-star brandy. That's about it. Came back to his room. Telephoned to the States, to one of those recorded pornographic message services. Again Tony has the details. You can listen to the recording we made if you like. Tony reckons our man got the number from the magazine he bought."

"Who's he speaking to just now?"

Phillips went across to check the notepad that lay on Tony Sinclair's knees.

"To Jermyn Street. Arranging a fitting. These people." Phillips shook his head in ironic disbelief.

Miles knew what he meant. The watchmen seemed to spend half their lives trailing men and women who did little more than buy expensive clothes and gifts for their families back home.

"He's making another call," said Tony Sinclair, the section's most recent recruit. Miles was watching him for any signs of weakness, of hesitation or misjudgment. Tony was still on probation.

"Speaking Arabic again," he said now, switching on the tape recorder. As he began to scribble furiously with his ballpoint pen, Jeff Phillips went to his shoulder to watch.

"He's arranging a meeting," Phillips murmured. "This looks a little more promising."

Miles Flint, attuned to such things, doubted it, but it gave him a good excuse not to go home just yet. He would phone Sheila and tell her.

"Mind if I come along on this one?" he asked. Phillips shrugged his shoulders.

"Not at all," he said. "Your Arabic is as good as mine, I'm sure. But isn't this supposed to be your night off?"

"I'd like to stick with this one," lied Miles. "I'll just make a quick call home."

"Fine," said Phillips. "I'll go downstairs and fetch the car."


Excerpted from Watchman by Ian Rankin Copyright © 1988 by John Rebus Limited. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 9 )
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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2013

    Good enough read

    I actually liked the book and i liked Miles. Was sorry it didn't end in a way that it could become a series. The Rebus books kept getting better and richer as time went on so imagine these would have also.

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  • Posted April 18, 2010

    Definitely not Ludlum

    Although my passion is espionage and spy thrillers, this was a complete disappointment. From the start, I never got involved with any of the characters, nor could I keep track of them as they were momentarily introduced and then faded as fast, with the exception of the main 'watcher', Miles Flint. The story was tedious and jumped around a lot with sub plots. Nothing was ever really developed. I kept hoping I'd be surprised, but when I had finished, was extremely glad to put the book down.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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